This is my 2012 NFL Mock draft v. 2.0. Some things have changed since my first one with the Free Agency signings and teams have until April 20 to sign their RFAs. Names continue to rise and fall but here’s my current snapshot into the first round:
1) Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Everyone thinks this kid is a sure-fire franchise QB, but he has shown some chinks in the armor – for him – in his sabremetrics against tough opponents as opposed to the season before last with his BDR (Bad Decision Rate) jumping. According to those, he actually regressed from his sophomore to his junior (final) college seasons. Robert Griffin III has a chance to wind up being the better professional player. That said, Luck has elite accuracy, pocket presence, and for-position athleticism. He has good instincts and a deceptively strong arm. Cam Newton and Andy Dalton raised the bar very high for incoming rookies, and people seem to think Luck after Manning will be plug-and-play. I say not so fast; the team cleaned house for one thing. Either way, Luck does appear to be the consensus pick here and I’ve seen nothing yet to change it. Obviously, he’s a day-one starter.
2) Washington Redskins (from St. Louis): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
In this text-messaging world, when fans hear “RG3,” they know exactly who you mean. This kid came into the Combine a riser already and blew everyone away with his 4.41 speed and athleticism, but it was his Football IQ that most executives raved about. You could see his athletic ability on tape, but raw football IQ isn’t as simple as that. The kid is just plain smart. My own concern is that Mike Shanahan has never developed a franchise QB. He inherited a mature and experienced John Elway. He didn’t really get Jake Plummer to play better. Brian Griese. Rex Grossman. John Beck. *yawn* However, Shannie’s finally got something special to work with. Another Day One starter, as it should be this high up.
3) Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The younger brother of the Panthers’ Ryan Kalil is the top Tackle in the draft and is the smart pick to protect 2nd-year pro Christian Ponder’s blind side. He already has WR Percy Harvin, so at least that’s something. Besides, it’s hard to throw with your face planted in prescription athletic turf. Kalil is often noted as “prototypical” – a fancy term for “the best.”
4) Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Richardson’s pro day solidified his standing of the head and shoulders to RB in this year’s class. He has a very good combination of speed (4.45), size (227 lbs), and strength (25 reps) and his game tape shows a relentless guy who can overpower larger guys and run by some smaller ones. His toolbox as a runner is vast, and he showed an intensity in blocking drills that literally knocked over the Browns’ RB coach. Richardson is the most complete back to enter the NFL perhaps since Adrian Peterson. There’s some pressure to take Ryan Tannehill here, but you cannot “whiff” a top pick this high, and Richardson’s presence will help out the offense on the ground. He’s a top-5 talent and a very safe pick despite recent tendencies of RBs to slide. He’s a better back than his ex-teammate, Mark Ingram, and has the potential to be one of those increasingly rare feature-type backs that can do everything and do it well. Richardson has evoked some comparisons with Pocket Hercules (MJD) in league circles already.
5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Widely regarded as the top defender in this year’s draft, the already-overhauled squad gets a corner they can count on. Claiborne’s skills are more polished than fellow LSU CB Patrick Peterson’s were at the same point last year. The Bucs are taking the Best Available and a player who can also make wild man Aqib Talib expendable if necessary. Claiborne is a franchise NFL corner with rare fluidity in transition and can play all the coverages (ex. off, press, press-bail) well as he was often in man coverage in college. He’s a tad weaker in zone on his angles but should improve with coaching and is by far the best total-package CB in the draft. Claiborne was second on the Bucs’ list – next to Trent Richardson.
6) St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma St.
Blackmon had begun to slide a little bit due to his pedestrian Combine and still some character concerns, but ran in the high-4.4 range at his Pro Day and likely cemented his status here with the Rams. Unless the Dolphins want this pick really badly, the Rams take the wideout for Bradford. This pick makes sense on a lot of levels as Blackmon has the strength to get off the line if pressed and has long arms to reach out for the ball. He plays a little bigger and a little faster than he really is, and that’s what you want. They take the safe (and popular) choice, having picked up CB Cortland Finnegan and lost WR Brandon Lloyd to the Pats in Free Agency.
7) Cleveland Browns (from Jacksonville): Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
The Browns pull their own Atlanta trade this year, shipping their 22nd overall, their 2nd-rounder, and next year’s first-rounder so they can pick up Richardson to give the offense immediate help while taking Tannehill here in front of Miami to sit behind McCoy until he’s ready to take the reins. They’ll still need help at WR, and multiple ones at that, but now they think they’ve got their QB situation finally settled with only the time-frame in question. However, Tannehill simply should not go this high when all is said and done. A 13-7 record as a starter at Texas A&M, poor play against top competition, and losing his last 5 college starts all wind up stacking the deck against him. Throw in a broken foot that hampered his development and he’s a project at the NFL level. He had a near-flawless Pro Day, but the teams know those are scripted. Still, he impressed by making his throws and QBs are overdrafted (Gabbert, Ponder last season) more than any other position. The Browns know they’ll be bottom-feeders in the division without stronger QB play down the road and feel the need to take care of things here.
8 ) Miami Dolphins: Reilly Reiff, OT, Iowa
The ‘Fins actually have split feelings on Tannehill being snatched up right before them. On the one hand, they know the kid better than anyone (via Mike Sherman) and need a franchise QB, but on the other hand, Cleveland just made the choice for them. With the QB gone and franchise LT Jake Long entering a contract year in addition to having an actual need at RT, Reiff is a safe and logical choice. He can easily slide over to play the left side if needed since Jake has some history of injuries and will give them leverage in contract talks in the offseason. Reiff serves as both a good fit at a position of need and a money-saving, cap-friendly franchise LT if necessary after his rookie season. Don’t forget, Matt Moore was 6-3 in his starts last season and played better as the season progressed, Miami owner Stephen Ross wants to “win today, not tomorrow,” and either way they still need receivers with the Brandon Marshall trade. Tannehill needs to “cook” a while and likely will sit for half a season at least no matter who drafts him, so this actually will work out better for Miami in 2012. It’s actually a perfect situation for both Reiff and Miami under the circumstances, as Reiff played RT at Iowa and wouldn’t be asked to slide to the left as a rookie with Long’s presence. They’ll have to look at a Brandon Weeden or other 2nd-tier QB in round 2 if they want to add to Moore and Garrard.
9) Carolina Panthers: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Most agree that DT is the position the Panthers will fill here but with a very deep class the question is which one? Memphis’ Dontari Poe is massive at 350 pounds and demonstrated unique athletic ability at the Combine but underproduced at a lesser college where his game tape didn’t match up to his athleticism. Brockers is the exact opposite, having average measurables but nearly flawless game tape while playing top competition week in and week out. He’s also only 20 yrs old, has very long arms, and was as stout a defender against the run in college as any of them. That’s what Ron Rivera needs most out of the position, so Brockers is the logical choice and should shine at the 3-technique once he gets his sea legs. He probably won’t live up to his full potential until his second or third season, but should immediately help the Panthers’ defense slow down the run enough to make a difference. Brockers possesses elite instincts as he’s rarely fooled on counters, reverses, or screens, which should help him play faster than his measurables. Les Miles says he’s beginning to show some moves rushing the passer, only adding to his value. He’s a safer pick than Poe and better against the run than Cox although each guy brings something special to the table. The game-tape gap wins this argument. Rivera’s run defense becomes relevant starting right here.
10) Buffalo Bills: Luke Keuchley, LB, Boston College
The Bills organization is FINALLY showing signs of sanity with their dealings and added the biggest FA from the defensive side of the ball this offseason in Mario Williams. Marcel Dareus was drafted for line help against the run, and the Bills add another piece to a front seven that is much improved over the unit from last year. Keuchley led the BC Eagles in tackles the past 3 seasons, showed up heavier and more athletic than he was thought to be at the NFL combine, and has given nobody ANY reason to make him slide down their boards. This pick is too high for the remaining LT prospects and the Bills have gotten smart the past 2 years with their moves. I think the shrewd choices continue with Keuchley. Buffalo should go deep into the season in the wild-card hunt in 2012 as Keuchley had Patrick Willis-type ability.
11) Kansas City Chiefs: Pontari Poe, DT, Memphis
The Chiefs settle for the 350 pound Haloti Ngata clone…if that’s considered “settling.” Stanford’s DeCastro is tempting here but the Chiefs take this huge young man at 11 overall. Poe’s game tape could cause some concerns though, and he could go anywhere from 9th to the late first round because of it. Every draft seems to have “That One Guy…” However, his strong athletic showing at the Combine has helped his stock. If he’s coachable, he’s got great potential and can play any position in the 3-4 at Arrowhead and that helps too.
12) Seattle Seahawks: Quentin Coples, DE, UNC
Coples is considered the best pass rushing prospect on the board this year, but questions about his motor have kicked him just out of the top ten. Seattle has a deceptively good squad overall but needs a lot of help rushing the passer. Coples has good size, burst and is very strong but doesn’t have elite agility and lateral movement to go with it so he could slide a bit further if not for the fact that nearly everyone outside Denver and New York Blue needs a pass rusher.
13) Arizona Cardinals: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
Going from the Cardinal to Cardinals, DeCastro is the best interior OL in the draft. Arizona had major issues at several spots on the line last season and was heavily involved in Free Agency to help strengthen it. DeCastro can do it all – zone-blocking, power, or moving/pulling and holds up just as well in pass protection. Whisenhunt wants to be a power running team, and DeCastro opened holes for Stanford’s run-first offense in college. DeCastro is a special kid that I wouldn’t be surprised to see becoming an All-Pro someday.
14) Dallas Cowboys: Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina
Okay, we know about the short T-rex arms. We know that! That is what we know. Okay. That aside, he’s strong, quick, and has a good initial burst that can augment DeMarcus Ware’s pass-rushing from the other side or play DE in nickel sets. Projects as a 3-4 OLB, having played as both an OLB and DE in college. Since pass coverage is usually what takes the longest for college players making the DE/OLB transition to make, the former Gamecock has some experience doing just that. Since he’s such a good edge rusher, however, he just won’t be asked to cover that often.
15) Philadelphia Eagles: Fletcher Cox, DT, MSU
Cox isn’t the run-plug the Eagles wanted as they coveted Michael Brockers too. With Poe gone, Andy Reid turns to the gap-penetrator style player. The Mississippi State standout won’t hold up to constantly being run at but he’ll be a guy that can be a disruptive force inside collapsing the pocket and getting in the face of the likes of divisional foes Eli, Tony, and RG3. Cox is actually a good fit as a 3-tech or a 5-tech and has the frame to add 15-20 pounds. It’ll be interesting to see how Reid deploys him in their “wide-nine” defense as he ran a sub-4.8 40 at 300 lbs at the combine. Keep a close eye on their situation at LT up until the day of the draft with the injury to Jason Peters forcing them to take a long look at Cordy Glenn or Jonathan Martin here.
16) New York Jets: Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Illinois
With multiple gaping needs, this pick fits right in with Rex Ryan’s pressure defense. Mercilus led the NCAA with 16 sacks, initially fits the 3-4 better than does Upshaw, and besides he’s got the coolest name of any defender in the draft: “Merciless.” The Jets could use Barron at Safety but Rex wants his new toy to rush the passer.
17) Cincinnati Bengals: Cordy Glenn, T/G, Georgia
Glenn is physically similar to Dontari Poe of the defensive line in this year’s class. At 350 pounds with nimble feet, he can play anywhere but Center as the most versatile lineman in the draft. The consensus is he could be a Pro-Bowl guard, which is likely where the Bengals will use him. His versatility and SEC pedigree means he shouldn’t slide far and the Bengals badly need a guard. Great fit here.
18) San Diego Chargers: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
What’s to say here? Martin protected Luck’s blind side at Stanford and the “choker” label is starting to stick on Philip Rivers. With the Charger need at LT, he’s a great fit. His glaring lack of speed (5.43-40) and other measurables at the combine means this is about as high as he’ll go, but you cannot coach the intangibles. He opted for Stanford instead of becoming the first 4th-generation black student at Harvard so his pedigree is impeccable and should also be a great locker room presence and should be an over-achiever if anything at the next level.
19) Chicago Bears: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Bears’ OL woes are well-known so they’ll likely address it later in this year’s draft. Adams or Sanders would be too much of a reach here and even with the Brandon Marshall deal, DAAA Bearssss have very little else at wideout. Floyd isn’t quite the deep threat some think him to be and had 3 alcohol-related arrests at Notre Dame, keeping him out of the top-15. He’s a good positional and value fit here, so they nab him while looking to round 2 for an OT, CB, or DE to play opposite Julius Peppers. DAAA Bearssss need help in the air game on both sides and Floyd would give them a pair of big WRs they lacked last season. If they can get line help later, Cutler should complete more passes to guys on both sides of the ball.
20) Tennessee Titans: ‘Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Good size (6’2″) and quickness for that size, he’ll be the second CB off the board. He’s a borderline steal at 20 with the CB-needy Lions coming up soon, and the team lost their top corner, Cortland Finnegan, to Free Agency and the Rams. Kirkpatrick fits well here.
21) Cincinnati Bengals: Stephen Hill, WR, GT
The Bengals want to add help for Andy Dalton and AJ Green and once more look to the state of Georgia to find it. Hill played in a triple-option offense and only had 49 catches in his career, but his 27 yds/rec make scouts’ eyes bug out. Physically, the best comparison in the NFL is Megatron since Hill is a 6’5″ 4.36-40 guy. While he lacks the agility of Green due to his size, the one good thing about his triple-option days is that he’s an accomplished run-blocker coming in. He probably won’t set the world on fire initially but will begin to assert himself as the season wears on and won’t be drawing coverage because of Green’s presence. This is an example of a guy needing to go to the right team because of his unique physicality and college system. Dalton will love this guy almost as much as he’ll love being protected by Green’s ex-teammate Cordy Glenn.
22) Jacksonville Jaguars (from Cleveland): Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama
Upshaw’s a high-motor guy with good pass-rushing skills that he showcased in college, but his “‘tweener” size (6-2, 272) gives teams a pause. Right now, he’s better as a weakside DE in a 4-3 who may need to see significant reps before he plays against the run, and will ideally be a 3rd-down and nickle DE his rookie season as he learns the position. Upshaw has the physical tools to do the job and will battle his way through the learning curve in northern Florida.
23) Detroit Lions: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
CB is Detroit’s most glaring need, and at this point Gilmore is an upgrade over what they have (very little) at the position. A bit of a reach for a need here perhaps, Gilmore does have the speed (4.40) and ball skills to become a solid NFL corner and was a very vocal leader in college. He’s a good tackler who excels in zone coverage and fits nicely with the Lions’ scheme. The rub on him is his transition in his backpedal is average and lacks elite straight-line speed to recover when beaten. He has elite football IQ and if he can spend some time in a zone-coverage scheme, Detroit’s killer DL will force some bad throws that he’ll be waiting for. If he winds up in the Jets’ scheme, he might never see the field as he’d be a liability if repeatedly matched up in man coverage. Jahvid Best has battled concussions in his 2 years and Mikel Leshoure appears to be doing his best impression of Onterrio Smith with two marijuana arrests in the past 6 weeks, but the Lions won’t address issues at RB here.
24) Pittsburgh Steelers: Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
Hightower is not the Bubba Smith guy from the Police Academy films, but has the talent to make a name for himself at the NFL level like the actor did. He has the size and athletic ability to play any spot, but likely will be Larry Foote’s replacement on the inside. If any of the linemen already taken in this mock are available here, it’ll be an interesting dilemma for the Steelers’ front office. As the board sits now, however, Hightower’s the guy.
25) Denver Broncos: Devon Still, DT, PSU
Kendall Wright is tempting here, but the Broncos’ acquisition of Peyton Manning means their young group of WRs just got that much better and John Fox is a Defensive-minded coach. With Dumervil returning from injury last year and Von Miller’s D-ROY campaign, Fox has the 2 pass rushers in place required to help pressure enemy QBs trying to keep pace with Manning’s scoring. I’ve always thought Fox was one of the better coaches in the NFL, and he’ll want to make sure opposing offenses don’t just grind it out to keep Manning off the field. This pick helps the entire team as much as any pick would, and the top 3 DTs should all be long gone by 25. Still, (ha, a pun!) Devon will help the Broncos toughen up against the run which should, in turn, let the Bronco defense be more aggressive and open up the playbook so Dumervil and Miller can pin their ears back more often. He has a nice combo of size and strength who should start to come on in the 2nd half of the season as he works on his technique and conditioning, but an NFL training camp will help with the latter. He also has a pedigree, being a cousin of both Art Still and Levon Kirkland.
26) Houston Texans: Nick Perry, OLB, USC
With Super Mario gone to upstate New York, the NFL’s #1 defense a year ago reloads here. The Texans decide on Perry over Clemson’s Andre Branch. Both are going to need some time to adjust but Perry’s the better athlete by a whisker. Perry may take some time to get up to speed and develop his game in the NFL, but has all the physical tools to do so.
27) New England Patriots (from New Orleans): Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Jenkins has 4 children with 3 different women and his college coach, Terry Bowden, didn’t even know about any of it until about 6 weeks ago. The Patriots’ organization will provide him with structure and all the other tools to succeed in the NFL, but the rest is up to him. The fact he’s a 4-times Dad at such a young age may actually help him realize “hey, this is my big chance,” and if he’s going to succeed New England will provide him as good a chance as he’ll see anywhere. It’s up to him to seize it and if he does he could be the steal of the draft here. Otherwise, his physical tools approach those of top-5 talent Morris Claiborne and Jenkins is the highest risk/reward choice in the entire draft.
28) Green Bay Packers: Kendall Reyes, DE, UConn
At 6-4 and 300, he has the size to play end in the Packers’ 3-4 scheme. He has the strength to set the edge against the run and showed more pass-rushing ability at the Senior bowl than he was thought to possess. While he isn’t the plug-and-play edge rusher the Packers would love, he has great lower-body strength to be effective against the run from the start while he develops his skills as a pass rusher. The potential is there but he won’t get a lot of sacks until the end of his rookie season or his second year.
29) Baltimore Ravens: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
With Hightower off the board and future HOF’er Ed Reed’s career winding down, the Ravens look to Barron as the heir-apparent. Barron is a bona-fide playmaking safety who should learn quickly from Reed and become the secondary’s signal caller without that much of a need to transition. Barron would start for most teams and if he lives up to his potential he’ll actually be a steal here. The Ravens will look to nab a LB or WR with their subsequent pick but cannot lose with this young man – assuming he lasts this long.
30) San Francisco 49′ers: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
The Niners could go with a guard here, but Wright is too explosive a player for them to pass up. They added Randy Moss and Mario Manningham in Free Agency but with the lack of production from the WR spot, especially in the NFC Championship game, was a glaring weakness. Moss is too old to be much more than a stopgap and Manningham has had an up and down career. Michael Crabtree was many things coming out of college, but never was considered a home-run threat and still struggles to produce at times. Braylon Edwards is a career underachiever and Wright is probably the most elusive WR in the draft with his acceleration, balance, and change of direction skills. He reminds me of a young Wes Welker and his 5-10 190 frame will see action both in the slot and as a split end. Wright shows great skills for the position and naturally catches the ball away from his body. If he’s still around at 30, he won’t get by Harbaugh.
31) New England Patriots: Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson
Branch came into his own in upstate South Carolina in 2011 with 10.5 sacks and will initially be used in nickel/3rd down situations while he learns how to better defend against the run, but shows elite explosiveness off the ball and should make some plays early as a situational speed-rusher. The Patriots well know that opposing teams will be playing catch-up, so Branch is a very good pick here to get a lot of snaps and upgrade their anemic pass rush.
32) New York Giants: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
This is an unusually deep draft for Tackles on both sides of the ball and the Giants’ O-line play left much to be desired. Adams gives them an athletic, versatile blocker who can be a solid starter from day one. He plays with a good knee bend to get his 6-7 frame under defenders’ pad level and has a nasty streak in his run-blocking. He’s still a bit rough around the edges and clearly has some growing up to do with multiple off-field incidents in his time as a Buckeye; otherwise he would likely go higher. The Giants will not take a RB in round one to replace Brandon Jacobs and could opt for yet another 1st-round DT prospect in Jerel Worthy here. One way or the other, the BPA on Big Blue’s board should be a lineman.